The Winter Meetings aren’t officially underway just yet as I sit down to give my keyboard a workout this evening, but the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee is set and baseball executives from across North America have checked into their rooms and have no doubt begun to follow up on things begun prior to departing for Music City.
Doug Melvin is there (along with his entourage) and has had plenty to say about what he expects out of the 2012 Winter Meetings. With appreciation to the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel for the quotes themselves, I’ll be laying out some things Melvin said and analyzing what I think they mean for the Brewers heading through the rest of the off-season.
Before I do that, let’s recap the basics about what educated fans know already about the Brewers and their needs.
The bullpen was bad in 2012. In fact, it underperformed so incredibly that it alone could be labeled as a singular reason that the team failed to reach the postseason. Just a handful of losses flipped to wins and the Brewers would have had that opportunity to face the Braves in the first-ever National League Wild Card Game.
As a result of their collective struggles, the bullpen has been basically gutted. Gone are multi-year Brewers like Kameron Loe, Francisco Rodriguez, Tim Dillard, Mike McClendon, and Manny Parra. Along with them, first-year tryouts for Jose Veras and Livan Hernandez ended in free agency. Even short-term fixes like Vinnie Chulk came and went. The only guys left who pitched in the big league bullpen to end the regular season and are still a part of this organization are likely closer John Axford, likely setup man Jim Henderson, and the finally healthy Brandon Kintzler.
As we all know, the Brewers did announce a trade acquisition on Saturday when they dealt a minor-league outfielder for established relief pitcher Burke Badenhop. That addition still leaves three jobs to be filled. FoxSports.com’s Jon Morosi already tweeted earlier this evening about one of those open roles:
#Brewers are prioritizing a lefty reliever. Among the available free agents: Burnett, Choate, M. Gonzalez, Howell, Gorzelanny.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 2, 2012
Just some names to know.
A return of all five starting pitchers from the 2011 NLCS team was seen as a rarity, not to mention that the Brewers only used six starting pitchers all that season. Now? Randy Wolf was released, Shaun Marcum is a free agent, Zack Greinke was traded, and Chris Narveson is coming off of shoulder surgery.
That’s the stuff of how question marks are made.
Yovani Gallardo is set to return atop the rotation but after that hasn’t yet been decided. As it stands right now, the Brewers have probably six arms vying for the open four spots in the rotation. Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers and, to a lesser extent in my opinion, Tyler Thornburg.
Doug Melvin has mentioned a couple of free agent starters by name this off-season already (Edwin Jackson and Ryan Dempster, for the record) but had some commentary on that front as well.
Will Jean Segura begin the season as the starting everyday shortstop in Milwaukee or in the aforementioned city of Nashville as he gets a bit more seasoning in Triple-A? Who will take over as the backup infielders after the Brewers burned through a number of MLB veterans during 2012? Travis Ishikawa is gone, Alex Gonzalez is a free agent after being hurt most of the season, Mat Gamel should be healthy but missed a ton of at-bats and doesn’t really have a job at this point…and that’s just the infield.
In the outfield, Nyjer Morgan was released and Logan Schafer seems incredibly obvious to become the fourth outfielder with Milwaukee. After that, though, will they carry a fifth outfielder? If so, who will it be?
About the only spot on the field where there isn’t a question is behind the plate. Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado are healthy and coming off of strong seasons.
Excuse whilst I knock on some wood.
Okay. With that, let’s get to those quotes from Melvin.
The big quote is one about payroll. After setting a franchise record in 2012 with a payroll north of $100 million, the Brewers finished in the red, meaning that they actually lost money this year. (Part of that is because the fans didn’t show up quite as well as they had budgeted for, but wins bring attendance.)
Melvin said, “(The payroll is) coming down. We’ll probably look at (an opening payroll) of $80 million or thereabouts. We want to keep flexibility in case players become available.”
In other words, despite a large chunk of money coming off the books there should be no expectation of a dollar-for-dollar reassignment. That could limit how much the Brewers can do in free agency but it will almost certainly limit the magnitude of what the Brewers can do.
That assumes that Melvin sticks to his initial words, but more on that in a bit.
Melvin was clear in that the Brewers don’t plan to get involved on high-end (in terms of years or dollars) relief pitchers.
“We’re not looking at those kinds of guys. We’d probably be reluctant to go three years with anybody. We might have to do two. David Riske was our last three-year deal for a reliever. That didn’t work out,” said Melvin.
Would left-handed reliever Sean Burnett be a pipe-dream then? Burnett had to debunk a rumor that he was seeking a four-year deal but that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for three.
The starting rotation was mentioned earlier and was brought up to Melvin as well. He stated that with how the contracts worked out with Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf that the Brewers “wouldn’t go three years with a starter. You look at those contracts and they don’t usually work out. Look at all the free-agent players who have been traded the last few years. Free agency gets people excited, but it’s not as effective as people would like to think.”
Does that mean that following a report which I linked to on Twitter the other day that the Brewers are taking themselves out of the market for the aforementioned Jackson and Dempster, both of whom are believed to be seeking deals of a minimum three years? Perhaps.
Melvin stated that the Brewers will probably go with some of their younger players in the rotation but that he understands the dangers of trusting a small sample size.
As for the offense, Melvin admitted (as reported in this space) that contact was made between him and Josh Hamilton’s agent Michael Moye, but Melvin also said that, “I don’t see (a big-ticket signing) happening. If it does, we’d have to be creative with something.”
Melvin added, “You never know how those things work out. I never thought we’d be able to get Aramis Ramirez last year (for what they signed him for). Things change. If major things happen, you have to be prepared to act quickly.”
In other words, Melvin is reminding everyone that you simply can’t use definitives when discussing transactions in Major Leage Baseball. Or, to go the cliched route…Never say never.
Finally, for the bench, Melvin said that they’re in the market “mostly for depth.” He stated that they “may have to go with some of our younger guys” but that “it’s always nice to have an experienced bat on the bench.”
And since a lot of you have reached out via social media as to why I haven’t pass along many rumors in the last few days, Melvin confirmed that he has made no offers to any free agents yet and, as of the time he said so out loud, he didn’t have any serious trade talks going either.
Then again, he’s in Nashville now at the Winter Meetings. It’s made for just those kinds of things.
Stay tuned all week for reaction and analysis to anything and everything that I hear or read related to the Brewers. I’ll pass it along just as soon as I can.
My suggestion? If you aren’t on Twitter or you are and don’t follow me @BrewerNation…now’s one of the best times of the year to take the plunge. I can’t always blog right away but tweeting is much easier to do on the fly.
The following transactions were officially executed today:
- José Veras was outrighted off of the 40-man roster and assigned to the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.
- José Veras refused the assignment and declared free agency, as was his option.
- Nyjer Morgan* was outrighted off of the 40-man roster and assigned to the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.
*Morgan has cleared waivers and can elect free agency tomorrow. He is expected to do so.
Last night, MLB.com’s Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy tweeted that Jose Veras had elected free agency following his removal from the team’s 40-man roster by way of an outrighting to the minor leagues.
This confused me a little bit because despite Veras’ propensity to walk batters (40 in 2012 in 67.0 IP for a BB/9 rate of 5.4) and his maddening inability at times to retire the first batter he faced upon entering a game, he pitched very strongly down the stretch in terms of runs allowed (14 September appearances, zero runs). That, to me, means that he must have at least a sliver of trade value despite the market for relief pitchers being kind of inundated with arms already.
Shortly after, McCalvy clarified his tweet with additional information which stated that Veras’ agent indicated that the veteran bullpen pitcher was, indeed, outrighted and was planning on electing free agency should he clear waivers.
Basically that means that the Brewers are still within the standard time frame of the waiver process which could allow them to trade Veras for some kind of small return. Hopefully a team in need of a middle reliever will give up something of value, though I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting much.
Veras was due for a raise as he is eligible for salary arbitration this off-season. He made a reported $2 million for the 2012 season. So, while the Brewers could technically re-sign Veras as a free agent, if they weren’t willing to negotiate against he production/comps/previous salary, it’s unlikely that they’d be able to reach what he would deem to be an acceptable contract.
He finishes his tour in Milwaukee with a 5-4 record, 1 Save, and 79 strikeouts, while surrendering 61 hits, 29 runs (27 of which were earned), and allowing five home runs and 40 walks in 67.0 innings pitched over 72 appearances.
Brewers Defeat Astros, Final: 5-3 (10 innings)
The first “half” of the regular season came to an end for the Milwaukee Brewers this afternoon with a 5-3 Win in Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.
Zack Greinke started the game, his second in two days (more on that later), but a rough first inning saw the former Cy Young Award winner throw 39 pitches and allow three runs to score. Greinke settled down after the first but with a reduced pitch count was only able to get through three full innings (on 66 pitches) before being lifted for the day’s scheduled starter Marco Estrada.
Why did Greinke start consecutive days? That would be the direct result of being ejected from Saturday’s game after facing two hitters, and only throwing four pitches. Greinke was tossed after arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Joe West. Something that will get you tossed every time.
Wait…what? That’s not what happened?
Then it must have been because he spat in an umpire’s face.
Kicked dirt on an umpire’s shoes.
Of course I’m being facetious. Greinke was tossed because he spiked the baseball into the dirt after failing to cover first base quickly enough on a ground ball. Greinke was late getting over and the quick Jose Altuve tied him to the bag. First base umpire Sam Holbrook called Altuve safe (the right call) and Greinke, mad at himself for getting over late, threw the ball down in disgust. Holbrook, who isn’t exactly known for his patient temperament, sent Greinke to the showers.
Anyway…after such a short outing (and no scheduled plans for Tuesday), Greinke offered to come back and start Sunday’s game. He did just that, struggled through the first inning, but left on a positive note when he struck out the side in a perfect third inning.
Estrada entered and allowed only one baserunner on a walk, but who was retired on a double-play. Therefore, Estrada faced the minimum through three innings of work. He was lifted for Jose Veras who was then followed by Francisco Rodriguez, each of who worked perfect innings in the 7th and 8th respectively.
The Brewers had tied it up by the 9th inning when Manny Parra entered and worked a clean frame to send the game into extra innings.
That ended up being just “extra inning” however as the Brewers plated a pair despite leaving the bases loaded.
John Axford entered the game and, though allowing a couple of baserunners, closed the door for his 15th Save of the 2012 season.
The victory gave the Brewers a series victory and saw them end the first “half” of the year with a record of 40 Wins against 45 Losses.
Gennett Participates in Futures Game
Gennett entered the game in the 5th inning but still managed to amass four plate appearances, which is reflected in the fact that Team USA scored 17 runs in a rout of Team World.Brewers prospect Scooter Gennett didn’t start, but did finish the 2012 All-Star Futures Game which was played on Sunday night in Kaufmann Stadium which will host the All-Star Game on Tuesday night.
The final box score for “Scooter”:
The hit was a double, and Gennett scored both times he reached based for Team USA.
Gennett was the only Brewers representative in the Futures Game this year.
Taylor Green Optioned to Nashville
After the big league game ended, utility man Taylor Green was optioned back to Triple-A Nashville in a move designed to give the former organizational Minor League Player of the Year some playing time.
While up with the parent club, Green got chances but they came spottily at best and barely at all once Corey Hart was basically permanently moved to first base defensively.
Green needs the chance to play every day and to get some swings. He’s only had four plate appearances all month and hasn’t logged a hit since June 26th, not coincidentally his last start.
The team stated that they would call up a bat in time for Friday to replace Green on the roster, but they did not name the player who would be coming. Chances are it will be a middle infielder as they are covered quite well in the outfield and at the infield corners.
Based on 40-man roster implications, my money would be on second baseman Eric Farris who is the only infielder at Nashville currently on that roster. Farris also would offer a right-handed hitting option off the bench in games where manager Ron Roenicke starts nearly all right-handed hitters. Previously, the bench options would have been lefties Nyjer Morgan, George Kottaras, Green, and switch-hitting Cesar Izturis who is cover-your-eyes awful from the right side.
Greinke Slated to Start Friday
Zack Greinke will be making Brewers history this coming Friday, assuming he makes his scheduled start at Miller Park.
More than that, he’ll be doing something that hasn’t been done since 1917!!
If Greinke makes the start as planned, he’ll be starting three consecutive games for a team in the same season. This feat was last performed 95 years ago by Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber who did it for the White Sox. Faber’s three games were a bit different than what Greinke’s All-Star-break-aided trio will be though.
Faber started both games of a double-header (he got shelled in both leading to short outings) and then threw a complete game, 16-hitter (only 3 runs!) the next day.
Still, starting three consecutive games in the same season is a feat unmatched since.
Leave it to Zack Greinke (credit Holbrook with the assist?) to challenge history.
Wondering who wore a certain uniform number all-time for the Milwaukee Brewers?
The Brewer Nation has got you covered. If you found this list on its own, head back here for the full repository after checking out this one.
Floyd Wicker (’70-’71)
Jerry Bell (’71-’74)
Pete Broberg (’75-’76)
Sam Hinds (’77)
Willie Mueller (’78)
Dave LaPoint (’80)
John Flinn (’80)
Bob Gibson (’83-’86)
Mike Birkbeck (’87-’89)
Darren Holmes (’91-’92)
Mike Ignasiak (’93-’95)
Ben McDonald (’96-’97)
Chad Fox (’98-’99, ’01-’02)
John Foster (’03)
Ben Hendrickson (’04, ’06)
Scott Linebrink (’07)
Brad Nelson (’08)
Ken Macha (’09-’10)
Takashi Saito (’11)
Jose Veras (’12)
Johnny Hellweg (’13)
The Brewers hit the road following their brief three-game season-opening homestand. They headed south on Interstate 94 to Chicago to take on the Cubs in a four game series which, because it’s Chicago, meant two evening games and two day afternoon games.
The Crew took the first three games in the series and looked good heading into an opportunity for their first ever four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field. They fell painfully short of that goal, but more on that later.
The fact is that in a venue where the 96-win 2011 Brewers only won two games all year, leaving town with three notches on the bedpost is certainly an acceptable outcome.
For more on each game’s individual happenings, read on!
Game 1 – Monday – Brewers (1-2): 7, Cubs (1-2): 5
Winning Pitcher: Shaun Marcum (1-0, 4.50) Losing Pitcher: Shawn Camp (0-1, 7.36)
Save: John Axford (1)
In the opening tilt of the series, the Brewers not only scored early (RBI sac fly by Aramis Ramirez, plating Nyjer Morgan), but often (scoring runs in six of their nine frames).
In a nice blend of small ball and…big ball, I guess…the Brewers got a solo home run from Rickie Weeks in the third and RBI extra-base hits from Mat Gamel (triple) in the sixth inning and Ramirez (double) in the Brewers’ next frame. Milwaukee also picked up RBIs by way of both a safety and suicide squeeze, and a pair of sacrifice flies.
The only real point of concern came in the bottom of the ninth when, sporting a 7-3 lead and with closer John Axford having just thrown 27 pitches the night before, manager Ron Roenicke called on Manny Parra to finish out the game.
Parra allowed a leadoff double and was lifted for Tim Dillard once the left-handed hitters were done. Dillard walked Geovany Soto which forced Roenicke’s hand.
Axford entered the game and allowed his first batter faced to single home a run on Parra’s linescore. With men at second and third and only one out, Axford struck out David DeJesus but then walked Darwin Barney to load the bases.
In a beautifully-called and executed sequence, Axford then struck out Starlin Castro on three pitches to end the game.
Game 2 – Tuesday – Brewers (2-2): 7, Cubs (1-3): 4
Winning Pitcher: Chris Narveson (1-0, 3.60) Losing Pitcher: Paul Maholm (0-1, 13.50)
Save: Francisco Rodriguez (1)
A cold night in the Windy City saw a team of (mostly) hooded men residing in the first base dugout.
The hoods designed to keep a player’s head and neck warm could also be pulled up to cover the face while running the bases, and the sight of so many of the Brewers wearing them caused many fans to invoke a “ninja” theme to the evening’s events.
It was a mostly fitting description for the early part of the game as the Brewers struck blows to the Cubs starting pitcher repeatedly. The loudest blow of the night for Milwaukee came from the first hitter in the batting order to plays sans shroud, Alex Gonzalez. He made plenty of noise by blasting a three-run home run into the left-center field bleachers, capping the scoring at five for the frame.
The ninja thing might have been a perfect description if not for the fact that Corey Hart and Mat Gamel were both hit by pitches in the first inning. After all, ninjas are supposed to be incredibly stealthy and therefore shouldn’t be able to be plunked.
The Cubs were never really in this game, though they did cut the lead to three runs in the third inning.
There was more ninth inning drama as well. The Brewers once again put a four-run lead up against the Cubs final three outs and put a non-closer on the bump to begin the ninth.
After Kameron Loe had pitched two mostly brilliant innings of scoreless relief, Jose Veras was given the first chance to slam the door but hung a curveball to Geovany Soto which was blasted into the stands for a home run. After striking out the scuffling Marlon Byrd, Veras walked the pinch-hitting Bryan LaHair.
The situation now being a three-run lead with the tying run in the on-deck circle made it a Save opportunity. With John Axford having thrown over 50 pitches over the previous two days, manager Ron Roenicke had decided prior to the game that the Ax Man was off limits tonight. Roenicke walked to the mound and signaled for a right-hander to enter the game.
Francisco Rodriguez jogged to the mound looking to record his first Save as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.
K-Rod needed just seven pitches to get through the final two hitters. He secured Chris Narveson’s first Win of the year by striking out David DeJesus and inducing Darwin Barney to ground out to Alex Gonzalez.
The Brewers had just guaranteed themselves no worse than a series split, but had eyes for more.
Game 3 – Wednesday – Brewers (3-2): 2, Cubs (1-4): 1
Winning Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo (1-1, 5.91) Losing Pitcher: Ryan Dempster (0-1, 1.88)
Save: John Axford (2)
Yovani Gallardo’s start on Opening Day was brutal. (You can click here for that recap.) A lot of people were questioning the staff ace and his abilities, which is ridiculous but they were, and were looking for a bounce-back start against the Cubs.
Going seven strong innings, only allowing one run (earned) while scattering five hits and two walks, he struck out six Cubs hitters on the day. He shaved nearly nine runs off of his ERA (early season small sample sizes are fun!), nearly a point and a half off of his WHIP, and thousands of doubters off his back about his admittedly rough start five days earlier.
Nearly exceeding his performance, however, was Cub starter Ryan Dempster. He too pitched on Opening Day for Chicago, but with much better personal results than Gallardo achieved. Dempster made it to the seventh scoreless, but allowed a one-out, two-run home run to George Kottaras which proved to be the difference in the game.
Gallardo was set to be pinch-hit for had Kottaras not come through, but instead he came back out in the bottom of the seventh and worked himself into and out of the only substantial Cub threat of the afternoon.
The eighth and ninth were by design after that, with both Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford striking out the side around two walks and one double, respectively.
Having hoisted the L flag atop Wrigley for the third consecutive game, the Brewers looked to do what they had never done before…
Sweep a four-game set from the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Game 4 – Thursday – Brewers (4-2): 0, Cubs (1-5): 8
Winning Pitcher: Matt Garza (1-0, 1.23) Losing Pitcher: Zack Greinke (1-1, 6.75)
When you head into the final game of a series with a chance to sweep that series, and you have one of the best pitchers on your staff starting, you feel pretty good about your chances that day. So, too, did the Brewers with Zack Greinke toeing the rubber on Thursday afternoon.
In a confluence of recent and unfortunate trends, however, Greinke pitched during the day and on the road. While coincidental at best, neither of those situations was particularly friendly to Greinke last season. (For the record: Greinke’s Win-Loss record was good during the day last year, but we all know how much that actually reflects his performance.)
Regardless of the circumstances, Greinke seemed out of sorts the entire day. He barely touched speeds with his fastball that he usually sits comfortably at. He normally sits 94-95, touches 97, but on Thursday he was sitting 91-92 and his high watermark only rounded up to 95. PitchFX information had Greinke topping out at 94.9 MPH, while averaging 92.64. (Those figures were quoted to me by mutual Twitter follow Jaymes Langrehr of the Disciples of Uecker blog. You can follow him on Twitter: @JaymesL.)
The second half of the Brewers pair of aces could only muster 3.2 innings pitched on Thursday afternoon, and he was charged with eight earned runs before it was all said and done. That was a far cry from his seven shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals five days prior.
The highlights of the game for the Brewers would be that two relief pitchers, who had been previously roughed up a couple of times, posted multiple, scoreless innings in relief of Greinke. Manny Parra took over in the fourth inning and pitched through the sixth, striking out four along the way while walking none. Tim Dillard then covered the seventh and eighth, also walking no one. Each relief pitcher allowed two hits while working.
Otherwise, Matt Garza simply had his way with every Brewer hitter not named Nyjer Morgan (two hits in four trips to the plate) or Jonathan Lucroy (one hit, one walk in three PAs). Garza only allowed three hits through 8.2 innings pitched, while striking out nine and walking only two.
His only hiccup, if you can even call it one, was when Garza induced a ground ball back to himself off of the bat of pinch-hitter Norichika Aoki but then threw the ball way over and past first baseman Bryan LaHair, allowing Aoki to reach.
With Garza then at 119 pitches, Cubs manager Dale Sveum marched to the mound and lifted his starter in favor of Monday’s starter Shawn Camp. Camp got George Kottaras to ground out on four pitches to finalize things.
Like I said at the top, taking three out of four games at Wrigley Field is never a bad thing, regardless of whether you lost the final game with arguably your best pitcher on the bump.
Games against the very much so rebuilding Cubs are just as important, if not more so, as games against other opponents in the division. You must beat the teams which you are supposed to beat if you hope to approach last season’s franchise-best win total.
I really liked seeing solid starts from Shaun Marcum and Chris Narveson in their first turns, and was greatly encouraged by the fact that heavy use early didn’t affect John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez as they were both very good as usual.
The bats need to wake up a bit still. Look no further than notoriously slow starter Aramis Ramirez (2-for-22 to begin the campaign) as evidence of that, but there is plenty of time to turn things around.
After beginning 2011 with a 0-4 record and not winning for the third time on the road until their ninth try, being 4-2 after six with three victories away from Miller Park isn’t a bad place to be.
The Brewers are in Atlanta tonight for the first of a three-game series. Tonight is the Braves’ home opener. That game will be contested by Randy Wolf and Jair Jurrjens with the first pitch being scheduled for 6:35 Central Daylight Time.
We’re inside six weeks, faithful (or first-time) readers. If you look to the right-hand side of the page, and are reading this on the day it was first posted, you’ll also notice that we’re a week away from on-field action against another team.
It’s an exciting time of the year to be sure. One where, in a normal set of meteorological circumstances, we’d be talking more about the trading of the seasons from winter to spring.
Do you see what I did there?
One off-season removed from the trading which brought us Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, today “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” profiles the only trade acquisition this current off-season:
Acquired in exchange for 3B Casey McGehee back in December, Jose Enger Veras was recently described on Twitter by Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy as “gigantic” when he reported to Maryvale for the start of Brewers Spring Training. In the tradition of reporting that a player has reported to camp in the “best shape of his life”, the term was met with some worry by those that read it. McCalvy clarified that he simply meant that Veras, who stands 6’6″ and is listed at 240 pounds, is every bit of human that his bio suggests.
Veras, 31, pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates (as he has throughout his professional career) where he posted a line of 2-4, 3.80 ERA, 71.0 IP, 54 H, 32 R (30 ER), 6 HR, 34 BB, 3 IBB, 79 K. He held opponents to a .206 batting average, and his WHIP totaled 1.24 for the year. He was 1-for-8 in Save opportunities for the Pirates, and hasn’t saved a game since 2007 when he was 2-f0r-2 for the New York Yankees. In other words, neither incumbent closer John Axford, nor incumbent setup man Francisco Rodriguez need worry about their jobs.
That isn’t to say that Veras doesn’t have late-inning value. He was the primary setup man for Pirate closer Joel Hanrahan and appeared in 79 games. His talents and level of ability definitely fit better in the 7th inning, which for the record is where the Pirates would’ve pitched Veras in 2011 had Evan Meek been healthy the entire season. The 7th inning just so happens to be a spot where the Brewers have an opening (actually, two) created by the free-agent departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito.
It’s extremely early in the process to determine anything definitively, but if camp broke today and the Brewers faced the Cardinals tomorrow and the starter could only make it through six…it would be a safe bet that Jose Veras would get the ball first in a close game where the Brewers had the lead.
Veras features a big fastball (range: 92 MPH – 97 MPH with a 94.1 MPH average velocity), curve ball (range: 75 MPH – 82 MPH, average: 78.6 MPH), and split-fingered fastball (80-86 range, 83.8 average).
He is a strikeout pitcher, as evidenced by his 79 strikeouts in 71.0 innings last year and his career 249 strikeouts in 247.1 innings pitched. When batters put the ball in play against him, the ball tends to head skyward. His career ground-out-to-fly-out ratio is 0.81 and was actually 0.68 in 2011.
Bottom line: He’ll contribute positively much more often than not, but like any relief pitcher is prone to give up runs in bunches. In the 19 appearances in which Veras allowed runs to score on his record, he allowed multiple runs nine times. To put it another way, he seems to be a very on or very off pitcher (just based on hard numbers), so it will be part of manager Ron Roenicke’s job with the help of bullpen coach Stan Kyles, to make sure they can identify the days when they might be getting an off Veras.
Day three of this (possible) eight day run is here as we are an even 50 days away from Opening Day.
Picking out the man who wears number 50 on his back for the Milwaukee Brewers might seem a little like finding the right car at the dealership. Many choices to be sure, but there’s just something about this particular model that makes it stand out.
In this case, those conspicuous features include a bald head, lean body, and most notably a 6’8″ frame.
Of course I can be referring to none other than right-handed relief pitcher:
I’ve been including a picture of each player as I’ve gone through this series, but briefly considered simply putting a picture of the lightning rod in this space and then just including Loe’s picture later in the piece.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Nobody attracted more heat throughout the year on a Brewers’ mound than did Loe.
Loe pitched in parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers before spending 2009 pitching professionally in Japan. The Brewers lured him back in 2010 so the upcoming season will be his third with Milwaukee.
Sure, Zack Greinke caught heat for his basketball escapades, and Shaun Marcum had his struggles late in the year, but deservedly or not Kameron David Loe caught heat early, often and consistently throughout 2011.
Loe’s 2011 season consisted of 72 appearances in which Loe totaled 72.0 innings pitched, a 3.50 ERA, 65 hits allowed, 30 runs allowed (28 earned), 4 home runs, 18 walks (two of which were intentional), and 61 strikeouts. He also hit two batters. Loe tallied one save and posted a record of 4-7.
He did appear in five games in the 2011 postseason, pitching twice against Arizona and thrice opposing St. Louis. The Cardinals put the only dents into Loe’s ERA by tagging him for four earned runs in Game 2 of the NLCS on October 10, a game which St. Louis won 12-3.
In three of Loe’s appearances he gave up at least three earned runs. Those three appearances combined for 12 earned runs in only 1.1 innings pitched. They were ugly outings and you can’t discount them when analyzing Loe’s season, but to fly off on the other end of the spectrum and try to claim that Loe was terrible more often than not or that he couldn’t ever get anybody out would be just as foolish.
Loe made 54 scoreless appearances and seemed to give up runs in appearances which were bunched together, though not always consecutively. What that means is probably a whole lot of nothing, but the facts remain.
Following the injury to Takashi Saito and kid-gloves approach the Brewers used with LaTroy Hawkins through much of the year, Loe was forced into working a lot of situations he normally wouldn’t have been called upon for. He was pitching to left-handed hitters in high-leverage situations. He was pitching in close and late situations. It cost him and the team.
If you’ve been a faithful reader of the series, you may recall that I mentioned in the Francisco Rodriguez article how when the Brewers acquired K-Rod their bullpen had already lost 20 games. Well, seven of those were Loe’s. To point out another thing, Loe wasn’t the pitcher of record in a loss once Rodriguez was acquired. As the back-end of the bullpen got filled out throughout the year, Loe was able to pitch in situations more suited for his skill level and abilities.
In an ideal world, Loe wouldn’t have to pitch to a left-handed hitter ever. He also would be used situationally in either early bullpen work for full innings for possibly 7th inning work when the match up at the plate works in his favor or the situation dictates a certain kind of pitcher being needed.
The reality of the baseball life is that Loe will be called upon in situations that are, for lack of a better phrase, above his pay grade. So long as those behind him in the bullpen repeat their solid seasons and allow Loe to pitch to his strengths, I expect that Loe will have an even better ratio of quality appearances to awful ones.
Loe’s ratio of ground ball outs to outs recorded in the air was an impressive 2.77 in 2011. That’s aided by the number one pitch in Loe’s repertoire: a sinker which he throws between 88-90 MPH. According to Pitch F/X information, he threw his sinker 78.6 percent of the time in 2011. He secondary pitch was a slider thrown with an average velocity of 79.4 MPH. He threw a handful of change ups but nothing worth noting. Interesting to note is that Pitch F/X said that Loe didn’t throw a straight fastball all season.
The sinker had pretty good movement, breaking down and in to right-handers, and the slider moves enough to where it can be a fair compliment to the sinker. As that 2.77 GO/AO ratio points out, though, the sinker is Loe’s main weapon.
Loe was eligible for salary arbitration this offseason and settled with Milwaukee at a figure of $2.175 million.
With the departure of Hawkins and Saito in free agency, Loe’s veteran leadership will be a welcomed presence. With the addition of Jose Veras via trade, Loe should primarily pitch in those controlled situations which I outlined earlier.
Put it all together and the result will hopefully be a positive contribution to Milwaukee’s efforts to repeat as NL Central Division Champions and take the next step or two in 2012.
Opening Day is 59 days away.
59 days from the regalia and tradition of team introductions, bunting hanging from stadium facades around the league, and thunderous applause when the home team pitcher delivers the first pitch of the season.
For #59 on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers countdown, despite it not being an exact match by calendar day Opening Day is the anniversary of his worst outing of the season.
Of course I’m talking about Milwaukee’s bullpen ace and resident purveyor of all things facial hair:
John Berton Axford hails from the great north and has a well-documented path to the big leagues. It’s not one that I’ll rehash here, but if you haven’t heard about his time as a cellphone salesman and bartender, nor read about how Jay Lapp braved treacherous weather to see Axford throw one cold, Canadian day, do yourself a favor and head to Google when you’re finished here.
Standing 6’5″ makes Axford an imposing presence on the mound. He may not be Kameron Loe out there, but Axford utilizes his height very well in his delivery.
The right-hander features a high-octane fastball that has tickled 98 MPH on the radar gun, a slider with good movement and a curve that keeps hitters plenty off-balance.
No doubt you’ve seen many a hitter throughout the 2011 season swing under and behind a fastball that crosses the plate at or higher than his neck. Well, that happens because Axford’s curve ball moves so well that it makes his fastball up and out of the strikezone extremely tantalizing to swing at.
Axford mixes pitches well, doesn’t rely on any specific sequence, and throws his off-speed stuff for strikes. It makes for a tough assignment in the ninth for any group of opposing hitters. It’s an assignment that resulted in Axford converting 46-of-48 Save opportunities throughout 2011.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the Brewers since April 18, 2011 (by the way, the Brewers won the NL Central Championship and beat the Diamondbacks in the NLDS), Axford rattled off 43 consecutive Saves from April 23rd through the end of the regular season. It was that security in the 9th inning that championed the Brewers to a team-record 96 victories.
After all, there’s nothing worse as a hitter than working hard to take a lead into the late innings only to have the lead evaporate within a few pitches.
Which brings us back to why I mentioned Opening Day 2011 at all. It was in Cincinnati on March 31st where the Brewers hitters (with some help from solid pitching) sent the defending NL Central Champion Reds into the bottom half of the ninth inning down by three runs. Axford entered from the visitors’ bullpen and, for whatever reason, couldn’t get the job done that day.
He surrendered a run to make the Brewers’ lead 6-4. Then, with two men on base, he served up a pitch to Ramon Hernandez that the Reds catcher deposited over the outfield wall giving his team a 7-6 victory.
This was Axford’s first day without his on-the-job mentor from 2010, future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman. It was the first game of the year, one that saw a Brewer (Rickie Weeks) lead off a season with a home run for the first time. It was a win that was basically in the bag.
But then it wasn’t.
There is plenty of talk in the sabermetric community that “closer’s mentality” is a myth. It’s something that is made up by agents as a way to justify higher salaries for the gentlemen that record the final three outs of a tight ballgame. I tell you this: whether you believe in the idea that closers are a different breed by designation, John Axford certainly is.
Normal men might have allowed that crushing loss to affect them for a long time. Normal men might have pitched tentatively the next time (or 10), trying to avoid a game-losing home run and allowing the opposition to nickel and dime him to a loss anyway.
Not Axford. He ticked off three saves, blew one on the aforementioned April 18th when he gave up a single run to the Phillies in a game that the Brewers ended up winning in extra innings anyway, and then didn’t blink the rest of the year. Sure, he gave up a run here and there, but was perfect much more often than not.
In fact, in Save situations after April 18th, Axford gave up a single run only six times. That’s 37 spotless Saves. Of the six blemishes, one was an unearned run in Colorado (you can probably remember that defensive 9th inning if you try), and three more were from solo home runs. In other words, only twice over 43 consecutive Saves was Axford hit enough where the other team was able to manufacture a run.
I think everyone can agree that Axford had a pretty good season.
The other thing to remember is that several leads were blown before Axford even had a chance to take the mound. If-come-maybes notwithstanding, Axford could have had a chance at a 50-Save season. Even without those games, Axford still set the team record for Saves in a single season.
Going forward into 2012, Axford returns as one of the top closers in the game today. With what figures to be an offense that is down in run production from 2011, a quality bullpen will be more important than ever. After losing setup men LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito to free agency, the trade for Jose Veras and return of Francisco Rodriguez after the team expected K-Rod to depart will prove to be very important moves. Their play in front of Axford will greatly influence the team’s success.
The bottom line is that the ninth inning is still where the money is made though in that respect with John Axford, the Milwaukee Brewers are awash in riches.